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Author Interview

Drucker and Me: Modeling Mentorship for the Modern Church

By Chris Carpenter Program Director - As time speeds swiftly into the 21st Century the mere mention of the name Peter Drucker might be met with a blank look, scratch of the head, or an awkward pause followed by a mumbled answer.  But for anyone who has spent any time working in business, management, or a leadership capacity, Drucker was a giant, a man whose writings contributed to the practical foundations of modern business in the twentieth century and beyond.

From General Electric to IBM to Procter & Gamble, Drucker advised a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies on the finer points of how to successfully manage people in large corporations based on his concept known as “management by objectives”.

But as former Texas cable television executive and current philanthropist Bob Buford can attest, Drucker was more interested in “relationship” and defining an individual’s quest for significance than in a robust bottom line.  As a testament to Drucker’s guidance and keen mentorship, Buford grew his business by nearly 250% in a little more than a decade. However, something was missing.

With vast financial success firmly in his grasp, Buford, a Christian, felt called to enter the non-profit sector, specifically to help pastors grow their churches based on principles rooted in entrepreneurship and management.  Over the years, hundreds of pastors have benefitted greatly from Drucker’s teachings; among them, Bill Hybels and Rick Warren.

I recently sat down with Buford to discuss his new memoir Drucker & Me (Worthy Publishing), find out what set Drucker apart from other business leaders, and to learn why one of the greatest thinkers of the last century was more interested in people than he was in cultivating profits.

Peter Drucker passed away in 2005 at the age of 95. Why were you so inspired to write Drucker and Me nearly ten years after his death?

Over 20 or so years Peter and I understood one another’s dreams. It was a very relational thing we had going. Let me put it this way: my father died when I was in the fifth grade and my mother died when I was 27 years old.  It fell on my shoulders to be the managing leader of a couple of TV stations (owned by my mother), and I really didn’t know how to manage. So I went into a deep study of everyone who was writing—and almost all Peter Drucker, Bob Bufordof it was short range and not what I was looking for. Peter utterly filled, for me, what the world’s best mentor relationship met.  Neither of us ever said this, but I had no father, certainly no father like Peter, the man I most admired in the world. It was kind of like Jesus and the disciples or Aristotle and Alexander.  That’s why I sought him out. 

This book is about 120 some-odd pages and generously spaced, not all crammed together.  It is a book you could get on a plane in Dallas and by the time you get to New York have a good understanding of Peter Drucker. It’s easy to read, has a story, and has a lot of emotional value in there.
The two of you were from very different worlds. He was a giant in his field, and you were on the way to establishing your company and working your way up.  That’s quite a contrast.  When you first met with him you found he lived an average, ordinary, middle-class life. What drew you to him?

He was just brilliant. I consumed a lot of management books because I was anxious to do a better than good job, I was ambitious. When I got to Peter I just threw away the rest of the books.  Someplace between the Bible, Peter and my wife—no kidding—even to this day, with every decision I make I consult three sources: one is Jesus, St. Paul and the Bible … and Peter Drucker.  Someone mentioned that I talk about Peter in the first person as if he were still alive. I think he is still alive in his 39 books.  He left a lot of good mentoring and advice right there. 

He changed lives and had a profound effect in the 20th century and continues to do so in the 21st.  What set Peter apart from all the other business leaders?

He was one of the most unselfish people I ever knew. He was not self-preoccupied. So, all his energy went to observing human behavior. I come to think of Peter as to management what Shakespeare was to literature. At one end you have King Lear and those two nasty sisters. Peter came from Vienna (Austria) and a background very sophisticated, and also came with this other little detail which is that Hitler burned two of his books. It was time to get out of Dodge so he went to London.  While there, he attended a lecture that changed his life by John Maynard Keynes.  He walked out of that, he told me, and he thought, “All Keynes talked about was commodities, particularly money.” He said, “I’m not interested in commodities and money, I’m interested in human beings.”

Why do you think he was more interested in people than he was in management and business principles?

Maybe for some of the same reasons Jesus was more interested in people than what was going on around him. I think Peter’s central motivation was to center the business or the social sector or any organization – center it on the customer and not on the size of the yearly bonus.

You were well established in your career when you came to the conclusion you needed to change your life.  So, you rearranged your priorities to give 20 percent to your company and 80 percent to a new endeavor—to start something called Leadership Network. How did you arrive at this decision and why was it so important to move in this direction?

A seminal moment was when my assistant, 15 years older than I was, said to me that I was frightening to her. I said, “Say more.” She said, “I think you’re going to lose some things of value to you in this chase for making more money.”  To me, business, I’d been in business for 20 years—the major purpose was to prove I could do it.  If you look at Tom Brady, he knows he’s a good football player and has a great looking wife and won three Super Bowls.  Why sign up for a concussion next Sunday? As I thought about what my secretary said, it caused me to think about my non-negotiables. It turned out there were three: that I stay married to the same person and raise my son to be better than I was. The second was personal development. The third had to do with money. I wrote down I wanted, in my life, to make a certain amount of net worth.  I wanted to escape the pathological side of wealth and satisfy a much more important thing to do.

I’d been there and done that and didn’t need to do it again. What was vastly more important was my faith. The question for me, the tension in my life, was not what I believed but what I was going to do about what I believed. And subordinate to that, when I was going to do it.

His encouragement led you to form the aforementioned Leadership Network.  What influence has this organization had on the mega-church movement here in America?

Peter said the objective is to make a church more churchlike.  The mission is set down in the great commission and other places in the Bible. It’s clear what God wants people to do.  So the missing piece was how to go about doing it.  How to bring a church up to scale—basically to scale the church to the place of need in the community, rather than tapping out at 200 people, which pays the bills.  He once told me that your job is to transform the latent energy in American Christianity to active energy. And everything I do is in that realm.  We’re not in the Bible study business because that’s well served. We’re not in church operating business because there are 300,000 churches in America.

We find the people interested in learning how to do that (make a church scalable) and let them teach one another.  Lo and behold, 30 years later, we’re still doing that. 

The subtitle of your book is “What a Texas Entrepreneur Learned from the Father of Modern Management”. Do you think the two of you were successful and continue to be so with your plan?

Yes, and I’ll tell you why. It’s really not our success.  Peter taught me a set of values. Two of them are this: you’re going to build on islands of health and strength and let them do the work.

We did some unpublished research once, a group of six or seven seminaries got nervous about large churches and asked us to do a survey. We sent a nice lady on the road for nine months. Her first question as, “What did you learn in seminary?” It was a half page of study subjects. Languages and stuff you ought to learn in seminary. Then she asked, “And what did you not learn that, now that you’re a practicing pastor, you wish you’d learned?”  It was like a business school: How to understand my customer, how to market myself, hire the right people, be clear about your mission and how to go about it.  It was my original dream, and they wanted it.  And they told us that. So we did it.

As an author, what’s your greatest hope for Drucker and Me?

My hope is to just channel Peter Drucker to people that can use his way of thinking.  There’s a quote from Mother Teresa. She once said, “I am a little pencil in God’s hand.” That’s what I have tried to be.

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